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Faroe Islands - History

Faroe Islands History

St Brendan and his monks sailed past a couple of islands in the 6th century that they named the Island of Sheep and the Paradise of Birds, and modern day historians have speculated that both islands were in the Faroes. The Paradise of Birds may well have been Mykines, the Faroes' westernmost island, which has an unusually dense bird population. The first human settlers were Irish monks, who did not arrive till late in the 6th century. They were no doubt seeking pagans whose souls they could save, or places where they could live in peaceful devotion. Little information remains about their stay, but it's likely that the herds of sheep that the Norse found there in the 9th century originated from hardy stock the Irish brought with them. Like those who settled Iceland, the first Norse to arrive in the Faroes were simple farmers and pastoralists looking for a peaceful place free of the ravages of pirates and tyrants on the mainland.

According to the Færinga Saga, written in Iceland during the 13th century, the Faroes converted to Christianity around 1000 and became a constitutional part of the Kingdom of Norway in 1035. Norway was formally joined to the Kingdom of Denmark in 1380, and the Faroes adopted a Danish system of law and justice. From very early on, the government of the Faroes lay in the Alping or 'People's Assembly', but after 1380 parliament ceased and the Alping became little more than a royal court. In 1655, the Danish government presented the Faroes to Christoffer von Gabel as a personal feudal estate. The oppressive rule of both Gabel and his son, Frederick, brought exploitation and hardship to the islanders, and in 1709 the government relieved the von Gabels of the islands.

In 1849 the Danish legislature officially incorporated the Faroes into Denmark, giving the islands two seats in the House, but by the 1890s, many Faroese were clamouring for home rule. Unfortunately, it came to nothing. The British occupied the islands during WWII in order to secure the crucial North Atlantic shipping lanes and to prevent the islands from following the rest of Denmark into German hands. Some Faroese wanted to take the opportunity to declare complete independence, but in 1948 Denmark passed the Act on Faroese Home Rule. The islands' official status changed from 'County of Denmark' to 'self-governing community within the Kingdom of Denmark'.

When Denmark joined the European Community, the Faroes refused to follow suit, mainly over the vexed issue of the 322km (200mi) exclusion limit. The islands now have their own flag, Føroyskt has been declared the official language (although children must learn Danish at school) and the Løgtig, previously a county council, now operates as a legislative body. The Faroese oversee their own affairs inasmuch as their decisions do not affect Denmark. Denmark still retains control of and responsibility for insurance and banking, defence, foreign relations and justice, and provides an annual grant of about US$200000000 for the privilege.

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